Why I Write About Food 007: Omar Janakat of Lands and Flavors

Travel and food go hand in hand for Omar. If you're interested in discovering cuisines from different cultures and making them at home, he's got you covered. Omar shares his vegan version of some of the world's classic dishes, breathing new life into traditional recipes like Lebanese Semolina Pudding and Japanese Dashi Stock using plant-based ingredients without sacrificing flavors. 

Tell us about Lands and Flavors.
Travel is my absolute favorite activity. It is where I derive inspiration and is the only thing that recharges my batteries. It's true to say that the travel bug has no cure and, as a result, I've traveled to over 45 countries. Lands and Flavors is a vegan food blog featuring recipes inspired by travel around the world. In formulating the recipes, I draw upon the culinary influences of my Middle Eastern background, as well as the rich, varied flavors that I’ve encountered through travel all over the world. Some of my recipes, like Beet Hummus, are originally and traditionally vegan, while others like Fettuccine Alfredo or Japanese Dashi Stock originate from decidedly non-vegan sources. I attempt to reimagine and recreate irresistible dishes using only plant-based ingredients and without sacrificing authentic flavors. 

How do you adapt some of the world's non-vegan recipes into vegan recipes? 
When it comes to veganizing traditionally non-vegan recipes, you must employ certain tricks to recreate the flavors and textures. For example, creamy foods can often be recreated by blending raw cashews or other nuts. I add miso and nutritional yeast to add a certain cheesy depth of flavor. And I make a ground meat using tofu and various umami seasonings that has even fooled my grandma. You know your dish is good when it passes the grandma taste test!

Why do you write about food?
I originally started my blog because family and friends were constantly asking me to share recipes for dishes that I had made for them. I felt that a food blog with clear directions and useful tips and tricks would be far more helpful to them than a list of ingredients scribbled on a piece of paper. The power and importance of food is evident and that is why I enjoy reading and writing about it. It goes without saying that food plays a large role in one’s own nourishment, comfort and memories, but I feel that it cannot be emphasized enough how food can also function as an effective icebreaker, a point of commonality, and, ultimately, as a great equalizer among seemingly disparate individuals. 

What are some of the discoveries you've made about food cultures of the world?
I’m always interested in learning about how certain foods or traditions brought by emigrants to their new lands are adapted and enjoyed by the receiving community. For example, Syrian and Lebanese emigrants to South America in the early 20th century brought dishes like kibbeh and tabbouleh, both of which have been adopted and tweaked by the local cuisine. Similarly, those individuals who returned to Syria or Lebanon brought with them things like yerba mate, the ubiquitous herbal tea of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, which now has a dedicated following in those Middle Eastern countries.

What are you currently reading?
I generally prefer to read nonfiction, specifically travel writing, history, and science. I’m currently rereading Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Paul Theroux’s account of his railway journey from London to Tokyo, replete with his characteristic detail and sharp commentary. I’m also enjoying another read through of The China Study, the comprehensive nutrition and epidemiology book that originally led me to become vegan years ago.

What's your favorite recipe on Lands and Flavors?
My favorite recipe on the blog is the Basic Almond Cheese. It’s also the most popular recipe, so I’m not alone in this choice! The simplicity of ingredients, straightforward method, and endless versatility make it a winner and crowd-pleaser. I’m still surprised how its taste is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Question from Maggie of Omnivore's Cookbook: How do you decide what's most important when it comes to blogging? And how do you keep your focus on these priorities? (Click here to read Maggie's interview)
I try to approach my blog from the eyes of a reader. I attempt to strike a clear, informative tone because that is the style I'm interested in when I visit  another food blog. I love it when readers ask me questions and I make an effort to respond across social media. Having a daily schedule that reminds me to spend some time on each of these accounts is a helpful tool. 

Visit Omar's website at www.landsandflavors.com
Recommended Recipes:
Vegan Japanese Dashi Stock
Lebanese Semolina Pudding
Basic Almond Cheese

INTERVIEW BY CHRISTINE LEONG. PHOTOS BY LANDS AND FLAVORS.

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